I was with him from the birth of his regiment, the 423rd Infantry in Ft. Jackson, S. C. when the Regimental Colors were unfurled for the first time. I was with him in Tennessee, in Indiana, and in England. I was with him when he returned to Europe to face the German again as he had in 1917. And I was with him when the 423rd as we knew it, died.
In December 1944, Colonel Charles Cavender, Texan, West Point graduate, former World War I private, came back to Germany as the commander of the regiment he created and trained. With him into the Ardennes forests he brought men like me, physically tough, individually capable and ready for combat.
Only a few knew Cavender's innermost concerns about the overstretched positions of his beloved 423rd in the Division line when we replaced the 2nd Division. Forty years later in his notes to Charles MacDonald he expressed dissatisfaction with the task assigned. Wide gaps in the defensive line resulted from the blindness of the High Command and its refusal to acknowledge the dangers in the Ardennes. Cavender's thinly stretched regiment was forced to defend without Armor and its reserve battalion. "Good Luck," said the one commander who could help. "If they come, just slug it out with what you have " as he left a frustrated Cavender standing alone in the eleven mile wide Losheim Gap.
A massive and vicious German attack did come through that indefensible Gap. Ordered to attack the German and fight his way out of the noose they had drawn around him Cavender's regiment fought alone. Promised help and supplies never came. With one battalion totally destroyed, he Mopped the charge of his last remaining battalion against overwhelming odds. The 423rd and its sister regiment the 422nd held off the best the German Army could throw at them for three bloody days. Their struggle would only be properly acknowledged by the German whose sensitive timetable of battle was destroyed by the defeated regiments. As he surveyed wounded men needing aid, riflemen without ammunition, and a total loss of communication with Division, he accepted the abhorrent decision to surrender his command.
It meant putting his Army career on the line. The General's star he would probably earn in his second war was not an acceptable trade for more lives of his men. Cavender was a casualty of the battle in the Ardennes as surely as if a German bullet had struck him. The sacrifice he made for his comrades was heroic and unselfish.
Few know of his valiant efforts to alleviate the suffering of his men in the Stalags. The records of his personal battles with the Germans commanders are buried in still classified records. He argued, he demanded, he bargained to little avail. But he never gave up.
How many would have died on that hill outside Schoenberg if Cavender had not the courage to surrender? I know I live today because of him. His example and training served me in battle, in captivity and in the later competition of civilian life. I am alive because he cared.
Not until forty years after I first saw Colonel Cavender did I meet him personally. He was a major influence in my life, and he will always be. Charles Cavender, for the joys of my life I thank you. As an old Sergeant, I salute you.
Richard Peterson, I Co. 423rd Infantry
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